In 1939, Rudolf Serkin (who died 1991) became Head of Piano at the Curtis Institute, where he taught for 36 years. From 1968 to 1975, he was director of the institute. President John F. Kennedy awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He was born on 28 March, 1903 in the Bohemian town of Eger, Austria, now called Cheb and situated in the Czech Republic.
Serkin’s 1936-37 U.S. tour, managed by impresario Sol Hurok, had earned him splendid write-ups. His Carnegie Hall recital debut, on 11 January, 1937, was called (by Herald-Tribune critic Jerome D. Bohn) ‘one of the most magnificent accomplishments in the field of pianism’. His 1938 appearances sealed his reputation as a brilliant and supremely disciplined interpreter of the works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. ‘They also won him an offer. In December 1938, Serkin was writing to Adolf and Frieda Busch from New York: “If they were to offer me Josef Hofmann’s piano position at the Curtis Institute, should I accept?” [...] The position paid $8,000 a year – a handsome salary in the late 1930s, though nowhere near Hofmann’s princely $42,500 – and would leave Serkin free to pursue his own performing career.’ [GOLLIN p.37] In January 1939 Serkin told Mrs Curtis Bok that he would accept.
Donal Henahan, in the New York Times, said: ‘Mr. Serkin, coming onstage for a recital, approached the piano [...] like a lion tamer approaching a dangerous animal. He walked with short, almost running steps to the instrument, smiling nervously and throwing quick glances at floor and ceiling as if looking for a way to escape. His eyes bugged behind thick glasses, and with his astonished look and halo of thin gray hair he could have been taken for a piano-playing Dr. Seuss. [...] His technique could be dazzling, thanks to his lifetime of monastic labor. Even in late years, when his interpretations grew mellower and more introspective, his daily regime remained rigorous: he used to say that only after five hours did he warm up and really begin to practice.’
Kilenyi was born in Philadelphia, PA. on May 7, 1910. He enrolled at the Franz Liszt Royal Hungarian Conservatory of Music at Budapest around 1922 and graduated in 1930. His principal teacher there was Ernst von Dohnanyi. Kilenyi's professional career began with a performance in Amsterdam with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1929. He made his debut in England in 1935 and then in the United States in 1940. Kilenyi proceeded to perform on several continents and made more than one hundred recordings (for Pathe, Columbia, and Remington) during his lifetime. His concerts in London in 1935 (with Sir Thomas Beecham) led to invitations from orchestras in France and Germany, the Budapest Philharmonic and many of the best American orchestras including the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia. During this time he performed with such conductors as Otto Klemperer, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Eugene Ormandy, John Barbirolli, Paul Paray, Charles Munch, Henry Wood, Willem Mengelberg and Karl Muck.
His career offers an interesting and piquant ‘compare and contrast’ with that of Bolet: unlike JB, he left the United States for primary studies in Europe but both careers had a European debut in Holland, and an appearance in London in 1935 and both were interrupted by the World War II (and both men served in the United States Military – Kilenyi becoming in 1945 the Music Control Officer for Bavaria in the US Military Government). While specialising in Liszt and Chopin (but also Beethoven), Kilenyi seems to have had the more successful career from early on, with – for example – eleven recordings for Remington.
Jorge Bolet and his life partner Houston Larimore ‘Tex’ Compton met in the early 1940s. A blog by Isabel (who knew Bolet) said that when Tex died in San Francisco in 1980, he had left, at same time, 'a break and a great void in Jorge’s life (un respiro y un gran vacío en la vida de Jorge). [Jorge] told me sadly that in the last weeks, when he visited the clinic, he did not recognise him. "Just imagine, after living together for nearly forty years." This therefore seems to place the start of the relationship in the early rather than late 1940s.)
Tex, four years older that Jorge, worked in the oil industry and had received a bequest in excess of 100,000 dollars which enabled him to live modestly off the invested sum. He invested in Jorge's career and travelled with him as his road manager/secretary. By 1951, Jorge and Tex were both residing at 71, Washington Square, New York City.
Tex was born on 31 May 1910, in Kirkwood, Missouri. He died on 9 December 1980, in Santa Clara, southeast of San Francisco. By then Mac Finley and Tex had invested in Jorge's career, forming the Arcoiris Corp.
A report in the Las Vegas Daily Optic for 5 February 1952 shows Tex firmly ensconced in his role of manager. ‘The dinner was given complimentary to the artist, Jorge Bolet, who was presented in a piano concert. Others attending were Mrs Thompson, Mr and Mrs Larry Gold, Mrs Susan Valentine, Mr Bolet's manager, "Tex" Compton, and Carl S. Sporleder, chairman of the Walsenburg, Colorado Community Concert Association, who came here especially to hear the Bolet concert.’ On 3 Jun 1954 they are listed as pianist and manager on the passenger manifest when travelling from Southampton, on the Queen Mary (in transit from Switzerland) to New York.
Albert McGrigor fondly recalls accompanying Bolet on concert tours throughout the United States, with Bolet and his personal manager, Tex, sharing the driving of a Lincoln Continental and with a Baldwin grand piano in tow.
By the mid-1960s the original money was gone and Jorge's concert and teaching income sustained them but with difficulty. By the late 1960s, they needed a stable income and it was then that Bolet applied for the piano jobs at Cincinnati (losing to Earl Wild) and Indiana, which he got.
Bolet grew up very much in age when discretion about relationships was a requisite. In an interview, pianist Stephen Hough has said Bolet ‘had a partner for decades who travelled with him always. He was just always there but it was never really laid out clearly who this was. You could think he was a boyfriend, you could think he was a secretary, a manager or whatever you chose, but there he was.’
One blog on the internet, by a resident of Geelong - a port city located on Corio Bay and the Barwon River, in the state of Victoria, Australia, south-west of Melbourne - has the following reminiscences: ‘Bolet and his life’s partner, Hank [who I presume is Tex, but cannot verify (ed.)] latched on to me whenever they arrived in town. Jorge was a laconic man and Hank did all the talking for him. They were absolutely devoted to one another. We went for coffee in Geelong after rehearsal in the Geelong Performing Arts Centre – I’m making this up, as I have no idea what it was really called – it was a very down at heel building, paint flaking off the walls and the back stage facilities were a disgrace. Strangely, Jorge felt quite at home. He had played in flea-palaces much worse he opined.’
The author is touched by their relationship: ‘the two of them were two sides of the same coin’.
They used to stay at the Sheraton Hotel in Spring Street and seemed unconcerned at its 2 star rating. It was not one of the 5 star International Sheraton chain... [Jorge] had to endure the after-performance reception at John Brockman’s house... Hank blindsided Pat Brockman on one occasion declaring ‘We just love Australia – especially them Pavalova (sic) cakes!’ Which of course, she had not provided. The next time Jorge came to town Hank had died. So too had part of Jorge – he had visibly aged.’
On the 7th February 1940 , Bolet gave a major recital at Carnegie Hall. Here is quite a perceptive review:
‘The Cuban pianist played last night at Carnegie Hall. Like most Latins, he seems to prefer and understand best that kind of piano music whose principal interest lies in its physical sound: music like that of the French impressionists and the latter-day Spanish composers. And like many Latins, he is inclined to consider practically any piece a legitimate place to hang a curtain of shimmering, aqueous sound texture. It sounds well in Ravel. Why shouldn’t it in a similar passage in Scarlatti? There are plenty of reasons why it doesn’t, but the important thing is that it never can sound well and thus should never be tried.’ Paul Bowles, New York Herald Tribune 8.2.44
10 May: Bolet is awarded the Josef Hofmann Award, given to the pianist "who, over and above his technical proficiency, has, in the practice of his art, arrived at spiritual and artistic maturity. Such an award is deemed worthy of the master whose name it is to bear."
In the winter of 1940 Rudolf Serkin, who had become Head of Piano at Curtis in 1939, found himself suffering from an attack of boils on his fingers and the infection by early spring was deep enough and painful enough to require surgery. By September, Serkin’s fingers had healed and he was again playing a full schedule. Because he was so often absent from Philadelphia, he needed a teaching assistant and settled on JB. Serkin’s decision was thought to be surprising – he had disliked the showy pianism of Saperton – but perhaps was influenced by his own and Bolet’s shared interest in the music of Max Reger. Eugene Istomin, a student, found that a splendid way to get around Bolet when he hadn’t prepared his lesson was to start him playing - Godowsky’s transcription, for example, of Isaac Albéniz’s already difficult ‘Triana’. ‘Bolet’s eyes would gleam wildly as his flying fingers got nearer and nearer the edge of extreme virtuosity’. For an irreverent teenager, there was something especially hilarious about the fact that Bolet – ‘this enormous, enormous man’ – who loomed over the piano and played finger-breaking transcriptions of pieces already finger-breaking in their own right, nevertheless demanded the most delicate, calculated touch.
From: James Gollin, Pianist: A biography of Eugene Istomin (Bloomington, Indiana 2010)
In the Auditorio, Havana, Bolet played Spanish music, 12 January 1942 (9.30pm) This was with the Havana Philharmonic under Massimo Freccia, an Italo-American conductor who died at the grand old age of 98 in 2004.
Freccia was born on September 19, 1906 in the Tuscan village of Valdibure. His mother from an aristocratic Pistoian family. In the late 1930s, he found the Cuban orchestra a poor ensemble, but trained it skilfully and was appointed its music director. Soloists of the quality of Rubinstein and Heifetz played with it.
(Freccia was one of the last men to fight a duel. Staying on a Mediterranean island in 1934, he was attacked by a rival for the attentions of a woman. Freccia, illegally, challenged his assailant to a duel. The weapon chosen was swords - his opponent was a cavalry officer, but Freccia had merely had fencing lessons as a boy and went for a "crash course" at a fencing school in Naples in the week before the encounter. They met at 5 a.m. and Freccia's sword pierced his rival's right arm. After 15 minutes of medical treatment, defeat was admitted.).
The programme in January 1942 was Turina, Sevillana, de Falla, Fire Dance, and Noches en los jardines de Espana with Bolet as soloist. It ended with Albeniz’s Iberia Suite, orchestrated from the original. JB played a Baldwin piano, courtesy of Excelsior Music Co.
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) completed his most famous orchestral work, Noches en los Jardines de España (“Nights in the Gardens of Spain”) in 1916. He attached no specific programme, but the title of the three movements suggest the Spanish pictures that he sought to evoke. The first movement is called In the Gardens of the Generalife - the jasmine-scented gardens surrounding the summer palace of the king’s harem at the Alhambra; the second, A Dance Is Heard in the distance; the third, In the Gardens of the Sierra de Cordoba.
‘This is one of the most deeply poetic of Falla’s works, tone-painting in the most delicate
colours. It is, as Joaquin Turina remarks, ‘really wonderful evocation, although in a sense the
most tragic and sorrowful of his works.’ Jean-Aubry finds that here ‘nothing is less brilliant than these nocturnes; but nothing is more strongly coloured by the play of lights and shadows skilfully contrived.’
The first performance of Nights in the Gardens of Spain was given in Madrid at the Teatro Real, on April 9, 1916. Shortly after this first performance, Nights was heard in San Sebastian (very near where Bolet would have a home in the 1960s) - the pianist was Ricardo Viñes, Falla’s dear friend, to whom the composition was dedicated. Another great pianist, Artur Rubinstein, was in the audience. Rubinstein was to play the Nights at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires during his first musical visit to that city, and eventually became a life-long champion of the work.’ (Maria and Victor Ledin). So far as I am aware no recording exists of Bolet in this highly evocative work, the more’s the pity.
Among the eminent patrons listed in the programme in January 1942 were Amelia Solberg de Hoskinson (the lady in whose salon JB first made a name for himself in 1927) , Sra. de Gaetano Todaro, Sra. de Gomez Cueto, Sra. Maria Daurer vda. de Hoyt, Jorge’s brother Alberto Bolet, Leopoldo Teixeira Leite and Marcial Truffin. There are some amusing notices in the programme booklet. No smoking while the orchestra is playing; don't chatter with your neighbour; don't applaud the National Anthem! An advert for Palmolive soap advises that 20,173 beauty experts in the world recommend it.
Clearly the cream of Havana society were in the audience. For example, Marcial Truffin was the second son of Senora Mina Perez Chaumont Truffin, wealthy widow of Regino Truffin and member of one of Cuba's most prominent families. Her husband had died in July, 1926, had two sons, Regino and Marcial, the latter connected with the National City Bank in Havana. There was an Avenida Truffin named after their father. But the house the family had owned was very special indeed.
In the Marianao municipality in the province of Havana, next to the Zanja-Marianao railroad, was Villa Mina, the beautiful suburban property once owned by Regino Truffin, surrounded by a luxuriant tropical forest ( one might find some dwarf palm from China or a rare orchid from the Amazon) - a fairy-tale dream for a nightclub which became known as ‘the most attractive and sumptuous nightclub in the world’, the Tropicana. We may imagine that de Falla's Nights in the gardens of Spain had some special resonance with Marcial.
The Windsor Daily Star (Ontario, Canada) - 30 May 1942 'The famous pianist, visiting Mr Raymond F[ayette] Stove[r] [of Shadowlawn at St. Clare Shores], will present a concert tomorrow at the Detroit Golf Club, at 8.30, including Albeniz El Albaicin and Von Dohnanyi’s Waltz from the ballet Naila of Delibes.
The Windsor Daily Star - 15 Jun 1942 (Clarice Tapson) ‘An experiment in Pan-Americanism and a musical event of proportions... (previous afternoon)...in an intimate setting in the Foundation School of Music, in Detroit, before an audience which included a liberal sprinkling of Windsorites (it was all quite legal: the tickets were sold on this side, for Canadian cash) as well as Detroiters and Senor Cesar Ferrer, new Cuban consul at Detroit. And it was an electrifying concert.’ Much of the repertoire was from his debut in Carnegie Hall last season. He also added ‘his own really magnificent version of the American national Anthem’.
When Maria crosses on the ship Drottningholm from Lisbon to New York in transit to Cuba (30 June, 1942), she lists Jorge as staying at 329 South 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA.
When Maria crosses on the ship Drottningholm from Lisbon to New York in transit to Cuba (30 June, 1942), she lists Jorge as staying at 329 South 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA. Some letters from the late 1930s/early 1940s and of great interest.
‘I had a hard time in Spain after the revolution began but finally I could get out of the country six months later and arrived in New York in January 1937. I stayed then in Philadelphia with Jorge…I came again to Philadelphia only 2 months ago. It is good to be with my dear Jorge again for a while. He is such a grown up man and his playing is so wonderful. I am sorry that you have not heard him play yet. Jorge is not doing much this year he has a very poor manager at present but he is going to be under Mr Judson next season.’
‘Jorge's concert for June did not materialize and now his entering in the army will make it very difficult. He still hopes to return to the US in the fall but as things are at present I do but it very much. We cannot play for the future nowadays but we know the Lord is our God…Jorge has no piano, he has a few pupils and a lot of social engagements..’
‘We are having a small girls camp again this year at the Fleidnors mission house in the ancient city of El Escorial, not far from Madrid and we covet your prayers for us at this camp…Word has come from the village that I am forbidden to bring the village the protestant girls from Madrid as I did last year, accusing the girls of bad behavior while in the village which is all a lie of the priest and a plot to keep us out…’
‘I have been busy and very happy teaching in the Bible school of the West Indies Mission besides attending to the work of our little magazine Revelation. Part of my work in the Mission has been superintending the children's work…Spain must be evangelized at any cost. It seems a totally impossible task as long as Generalisimo Franco is in power and the Roman Church in full control…Spain has a right to have an opportunity to hear the good news of salvation..’
The Hempstead Sentinel, 29 October 1942, reports that ‘return engagements are sometimes disappointing but this was not the case Tuesday morning (27th) when JB made his second appearance under the auspices of the music department of the Garden City Hempstead Community Club. He opened the series of three morning musicales at the Cathedral House and was introduced by Mrs August Stephen Wolf, department chairman.
‘If there was any change in Mr Bolet’s work it was the fact that he had grown emotionally as an artist in the more than four years since he was last heard in Garden City. Each number was exquisitely colored and was set in an atmosphere all of its own. The same remarkable tempos are there, together with crystal clear and fluent technique and a breadth of tone that is breath taking.
The twenty-seven year old pianist again included in his recital a group of Chopin and it is there that he seems happiest although his Spanish numbers were played with a dash and feeling that only one of the Latin race can bring forth.’
Encores included ‘his own stirring arrangement of the national anthem’. The programme included Intermezzi in A major and C major (Brahms), El Albaicín (Albéniz), the Suite by Debussy and the Chopin Scherzi.
‘Mr Bolet and his manager, Raymond Stover, were guests of honor at a luncheon following the recital given by the music committee at the Cherry Valley Club.' the name of raymond Stover crops up quie a lot. 'Among the guests was another well-known pianist, Edward Kilenyi who is stationed with the air corps at Mitchel Field.' [See side panel.]
18 December at 8.30 (Friday) Carnegie Hall
Schubert 2 Impromptus B flat Op. 142/3 E flat Op.90/2, Chopin 4 Scherzi, Falla Cubana, Andaluza, Albeniz El Albaícin, Godowsky 3 pieces from Java Suite.
Jorge Bolet, 28-year-old Cuban pianist, who was largely trained here, is a brilliant young artist. He plays with a fine romantic flavor, and in a recital at Carnegie Hall last night he gave performances that had the ardor of a colorful personality but that were founded nevertheless on a rockbed of discipline... One of the leaders of the younger generation.’ There were moments when he was carried away by his own exuberance. [H. Taubman NYT 19/12/42, who classes Schubert as a Romantic composer!] That afternoon, Rachmaninov had performed his Paganini variations under Mitropoulos.
New York newspaper PM (Henry Simon) He had played 3 pieces from Java Suite that all but lived up to the composer’s own lush program notes. It may not be great music but a young pianist who has the color and technique to live up to such literature has an extraordinary equipment. That’s Jorge Bolet.
"Buitenzorg, meaning 'Sans Souci' and pronounced Boy-ten-sorg...is the country capital of Java, where the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies has his residence. His spacious palace is situated in a large park which forms part of the most famous Botanical Gardens in the world....The heavily perfumed air awakens an inexpressibly deep and painful yearning for unknown worlds, for inaccessible ideals, for past happenings irrevocably gone...Why do certain scents produce unutterable regrets, insatiable longings, indefinable desires?"
A letter about this event:
To Mrs. Albert Shaw, Winter Park, Florida , January 20, 1943
I was so sad not to have you at Carnegie! But I saw Roger just last week and he told me he was there and enjoyed it very much. I have wished that I could have written to you sooner telling you about the financial outcome of the recital, but it was not until my return from Albany (I played a recital there) day before yesterday that I received the statement from Columbia Concerts, Inc. The total expenses amount to a few dollars over $1300.00 and the total box office receipts came to exactly $680.03.
As I wrote to you last fall, I was to return money given to me in proportion to the receipts taken in. Therefore since you advanced me $75.00, I take great pleasure in enclosing you a check for $39.22, your proportionate return. I wish that I were returning the whole $75.00 but I consider myself fortunate in having had such a good house.
Again I want to thank you for your wonderful kindness which together with that of some others of my good friends made the concert possible. Maria has just received a wire from Mercedes saying they shall arrive at the end of January. She is tickled pink!
I am always your sincerely friend, Jorge.
Please let us know if you come North! [ 329 So. 17th St., Phila., Pa.]
During these years some recordings were made for the Lira Pan Americana label (a Bach Toccata, Mozart Fantasy, Chasins' Schwanda Fantasy etc.)
‘I was just about to be called up in the US army because I’d made my home in America by then, when the President of Cuba heard about it from my brother. I got a cable immediately ordering me back to Cuba, so I served President Batista and eventually went back to America to assist the military attaché in Washington.’ [ Interview with Nicholas Kenyon , Times 6.10.80]
Seconded to Cuban Embassy in Washington as Lieutenant (Cultural) during World War II.
Surprising Washington debut
Bolet’s Washington debut [11 January,1944] as a pianist was purely accidental. ‘A member of an audience of 3,000 assembled to hear a wartime performance of the Sigmund Romberg Orchestra, Bolet heard Constitution Hall’s frantic manager explain an unavoidable delay and beg for local talent to come to the fore.’ From Mifflinburg Telegraph (Pennsylvania) 15 March 1951. See NYTimes Feb 6, 1944 Unexpected debut in Constitution Hall, Washington ‘recently’ . The train bringing Sigmund Romberg from Canton, Ohio had not arrived by 8.50pm Dorothy Sandlin would sing if someone in the audience would accompany her. A young Cuban army man got up. He played Chopin’s B flat minor scherzo and the audience realised that he was no amateur; they clamoured for more. He will appear tomorrow in Carnegie Hall. Charles Van Devander’s nationally syndicated Washington Memo added 'with sure touch and supreme artistry he dashed off Chopin’s F-sharp major Nocturne and A-flat Polonaise followed by Alec Wilder’s ‘Neurotic Goldfish.’ The applause was tremendous.” Three months later, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in her syndicated column “My Day” “…I went to a concert at the Pan-American Building ... The young pianist from Cuba, Lt. Jorge Bolet played, and I enjoyed again his great artistic gift.” "Presumably the First Lady had previously heard Jorge, then the assistant military attaché at the Cuban embassy, either at the Constitution Hall concert or at a previous Pan-American Union event. [Francis Crociata] believes the recordings of the Bach Toccata, Mozart Rondo, and Chasins Schwanda Fantasy [available on Marston CDs] were made in conjunction with one of those Pan American Union occasions.
A Cuban in America
In 1944 December, political changes at home rendered JB’s commission void. The pianist-diplomat answered this challenge by enlisting in the US Army (31 Jan 1945 in Baltimore Maryland). After 6 weeks as a private, he was chosen valedictorian of his naturalisation class at Camp Croft, South Carolina. He becomes an American citizen.
An interview [Leandro Garcia ] in a Cuban newspaper in late ?1944; JB’s father was present during the interview. Headline: Jorge Bolet is no longer ‘The Cuban Pianist’ He has had to renounce his citizenship of origin. Headings to the paragraphs include El silencio del ex-coronel Bolet, Lo que ha perdido Cuba, Jiras y concientros canceldos, una carrera asombroso, Tristeza y amargura de un gran pianist.
‘My last visit to Cuba was in November 1944. I gave a concert in the Auditorio and another in the Teatro Nacional, for the benefit of the victims of the cyclone. Then I was 2nd Lt in the Cuban Army. I had contract with Columbia Artists. 15 concerts in the USA for 1944/5, a tour of 30 concerts in Australia and new Zealand for the spring of 1945/6. My position as Cuban Army official was going to present difficulties. I explained this to President Grau. [etc.]’ The article states that JB was born El Cerro. He speaks five languages, German, Italian, French, English and Spanish. Habia llegado demasiado lejos par ser criollo! One doesn’t know whether the father or the son is the sadder.
(Apologies for the bitty nature of this report. I had to read the Spanish quite quickly in the archive and needed more time! If anyone has the article, I'd love to read it again.)
8 December 1944: Carnegie Hall
In the uniform of the Cuban Army. ‘He does not appear to be a pianist of remarkable insight as yet, or to be the possessor of highly individual talents. But there was all-round efficiency.’ His programme included Bach’s French Suite in E major (!!) where the Courante and Gigue were ‘too fast’. In the Brahms/Handel variations, there was technical security and the necessary brilliance. Dello Joio’s second sonata (the composer was present), Chopin’s G minor Ballade. The review is credited to M.A.S.
He said that in the Training Corps at Fort Benning, Georgia , early in WWII, he stayed with a wonderful family who had an ‘absolutely gorgeous piano’. he came across the music of Liszt’s Mephisto waltz No. 1 which he had never really looked at before. ‘I learned it in 1 hour and 15 minutes’ after saying to the daughter than he could do it in 6 hours. San Francisco Chronicle 11.9.85
The pianist (and JB's perhaps disengaged teacher for the briefest of periods in '35/36) Moriz Rosenthal died in 1946.
On 25 April, 1946 Lieutenant Bolet gave a concert in Hibiya Hall, Tokyo with the Nippon Philharmonic. But he was not the only Western pianist in Japan at the end of the war. There was Arthur Loesser, born in New York on August 26, 1894 of German descent. During World War II, Loesser served in the Army as a Japanese language officer, retiring with the rank of major. He was ordered to Tokyo during the early months of the occupation, in the autumn and winter of 1945-46. During that time he was soloist with the Nippon Philharmonic at Hibiya Hall, playing the Chopin Concerto in E minor, thus becoming the first American after the war, to perform music before a large Japanese audience
After World War II, The Mikado was staged in Japan in a number of private performances. The first public production, given at three performances, was in 1946, conducted by the pianist Jorge Bolet for the entertainment of American troops.
The set and costumes were opulent, and the principal players were American, Canadian, and British, as were the women's chorus, but the male chorus and the female dancing chorus were Japanese.
Images kindly provided by Francis Crociata.
Tokyo, Thursday 8 August 1946: The Mikado had been postponed several times because of delays in installing the air conditioning system in the Ernie Pyle Memorial Theatre. ‘It should be ready by Thursday but the show will go on anyway, even if the cast has to swelter under the heavy, ornate costumes, some of them made of seven layers of silk. the production, staged by Edward S Stephenson of Glendale, Calif., and Miss Frances Holy of Pasadena, Calif.,, ahs a cast of 102 and will be conducted by Lt. Jorge Bolet.’ It will play in Tokyo for a week and then take the road for 13 performances in Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. The Gettysburg Times, 5 Aug. 1946
"The army made no attempt to dull the cut of Gilbert's pointed barbs. But to avoid making any offensive comparison with Emperor Hirohito, who is 5 feet 3 inches tall, the role of the Mikado was given to a 19 year old Illinois sergeant [Donald Mitchell] who stood a strangely un-Japanese 6 feet 5 inches in his socks." LIFE 9 September 1946
The Ernie Pyle theatre was a Tokyo landmark at the time, but before the Americans requisitioned it and renamed it in honour of a war correspondent who was killed in the Pacific, it was the Tokyo Takarazuka Theatre, built in 1932 and home to the spectacular Takarazuka Revue. When the Americans left it became the Takarazuka Theatre once again, as it is to this day, though the original theatre was demolished and rebuilt in 2000.
The orchestral score was arranged by Klaus Pringsheim (24 July 1883, Munich – 7 December 1972, Tokyo) , a German-born composer, conductor, music-educator, and the twin brother of Katharina "Katia" Pringsheim, who married Thomas Mann in 1905.
A copy of the Mikado programme is in Bolet's papers in IPAM. All the women in the chorus were Japanese. Koko was played by Huntington Watts, Yum Yum by Gertrude Griffiths.
There is a letter in the IPAM archives from Miss Yoshiko Nakamura ,1344 Sashugaya [= Zoshigaya] 2, Setagaya Ku, Tokyo, 24 August 1946:
Dear Lt. Bolet,
The Mikado which is one of my biggest and proudest moments is drawing to a successful close and with it our short acquaintance. [She is sending him a dancing fan.] When my dream of going to your country is realised, I will buy a better xylophone than I have now. Perhaps I shall be able to meet you again.
After his discharge at the end of the war, Bolet toured Mexico, Central America, the West Indies and Latin America. He also gave frequent performances with Havana Philharmonic.
Premiere of a sonata by Dello Joio. New York Times 'Composer Shares Applause With Cuban Pianist After the Audience Hears New Work' Tuesday, October 14, 1947. This was JB’s first recital since return to civilian life. It was also the 10th anniversary of his Naumburg prize. ‘Any Naumburg judges in the house must have been proud of their choice.’ There were some trifles (Tcherepnin’s bagatelles) as well as Beethoven's piano sonata Les Adieux and Dello Joio’s third sonata. In the Brahms selection the pianist came fully ‘into the vein’.
In 1985 a reporter reached Bolet by phone at a Holiday Inn, Tennessee. JB had had to make decisions about tempo, dynamics, articulation in the last movement of dello Joio’s third sonata, as there were very little indications. ‘When Norman was ready to publish (for Schirmer) he called me for advice. I sent him a photostat of the manuscript with my performing indications. Every mark was my own in the published score.’ Atlanta Journal, 15 September 1985 (Henry Derrick)
There are photos from Camp Pocono [dated 1947 in the International Piano Archive Maryland] where JB went on summer camp. ‘He retained a lifelong devotion to the community at Pocono in Pennsylvania, a boys' camp where he was sent to improve his English and enjoy the benefit of a healthy and congenial setting, one fascinatingly remote from his Cuban background and also from many repressive and dominating influences. He later contributed an essay in a book describing this idyllic place, both as student and counsellor, with an almost painful sense of warmth and gratitude.’ B.MORRISON Gramophone 1/91
20 May 1947:The international service of Radio Canada (Montreal) broadcast a programme to Cuba. Dr Mariano Brull y Caballero spoke and Jorge Bolet, Minuetta Borek, Rey de la Torre and Angel Reyes performed. 8-9pm on Independence Day. (Diario de la Marina 18.5.47)
Bolet wrote an article entitled ‘Music: a diplomatic weapon’ in 1948 about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: it had for the past two to three years directed musical programmes at Latin America in furthering a good neighbour policy. ‘I was amazed when I was invited to Montreal to appear on some 15 of these programs. Because of my Latin birth, I realized how much they would be appreciated in South and Central America.’ He observed that a number of great artists had been ‘discovered’ in South America before making it in the North: Caruso, Lucrezia Bori, Barrientos, Frieda Leider, Claudia Muzio and Rosa Raisa. Rubinstein, Iturbi and Maryla Jonas were discovered in the Argentine before the US. The radio used to send the Latin world ‘program after program of Americanized versions of rumbas, tangos, sambas and Mexican songs....[but] in the cafés and nightclubs of South America, they could hear authentic South American music performed much better than over our networks.’ Music Journal 6.5 (1948), p.34
It was in 1947 that Jorge’s sister, Maria’s missionary work in Spain began in earnest. Religious freedom at the time was an off-and-on proposition under Franco. She was repeatedly expelled from Spain and worked in France, Tangier and also back in Cuba. She endured famine during Spain’s Civil War and WWII, arrests, and even stoning. In 1968, when religious freedom was declared, she returned to Spain for good.
‘High on a cool forested mountain slope 80 km north of Madrid’s arid, dusty plains sits a royal palace. Fifteen hundred acres of manicured gardens, fountains, and sculpture make it a showpiece of Spanish architecture. The village of La Granja within its perimeter was established to service this summer residence of the Spanish crown, and many of its residents are still employed there. But at the end of one narrow, cobbled alley, an unpretentious wooden gate set in a high, plastered wall opens into a surprisingly spacious courtyard whose gardens, buildings and residents are dedicated to serving a very different and much greater King. There in the village of La Granja is the Centro Biblico Betel. It was born of the vision and stubborn endurance of BCM’s [Bible-Centred Ministry] first missionary to Spain, Maria Bolet.’
Pro Artes y Ciencias presented JB in Cienfuegos, 160 miles south-east of Havana, at the Teatro Luisa on Sunday, 11 April 1948 at 10am. Founded in 1911 as a theatre and showing films from 1913, this is now the Cine Teatro Luisa Martínez Casado. Arranged around the country's most spectacular natural bay, Cienfuegos is a nautical city with an enviable waterside setting.
His programme included Brahms (Capriccios), Liszt’s B minor sonata, Chopin (Impromptus) and Schubert-Godowsky, ending with Saint-Saens (Etude in the form of a waltz).
"Cuba's so-called Perla del Sur (Pearl of the South) has long seduced travellers from around the island with its elegance, enlightened French spirit and feisty Caribbean panache. If Cuba has a Paris, this is most definitely it." (Lonely Planet) The city was settled by French immigrants from Bordeaux and Louisiana led by Don Louis de Clouet on April 22, 1819. Many of the streets in old town reflect French origins in their names: Bouyón, D'Clouet, Hourruitiner, Gacel, and Griffo, for instance.
On April 9, 1948, populist Colombian presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was shot down in the street outside of his office in Bogotá. The poor of the city, who saw him as a saviour, went berserk, rioting in the streets, looting and murdering. This riot is known as the “Bogotazo” or “Bogotá attack.” When the dust settled the next day, 3,000 were dead, much of the city had been burned to the ground. Tragically, the worst was yet to come: the Bogotazo kicked off the period in Colombia known as “La Violencia,” or “the time of violence,” in which hundreds of thousands of ordinary Colombians would die.
On 25 April, the new York Times reported the riots. Dr Bernardo Mendel, a Bogotá concert manager, had engaged 9 artists to give recitals there during an Inter-American conference. Jorge Bolet, Chloe Elmo etc. could hardly be expected to go there now. There were riots in Cartagena de Indias too and the 4th annual Pro-Arte Festival was cancelled.
3 December (Friday) 1948, Carnegie Hall: JORGE BOLET GIVES COLORFUL RECITAL; Cuban Pianist Shows Marked Ability as an Interpreter of Variety of Music 4.12.48 NYT (Chilean tenor Ramón Vinay in Otello at Met.)
The programme included: Beethoven Rondo Op. 51/1 in C, Schubert's A major Sonata, Prokofiev's Sonata No. 8 Op. 84, Chopin Berceuse, Saint-Saens Waltz. The Beethoven was ‘beautifully detailed – deliberate tempo, enough to lend the grace of outline ‘needed in the chief theme and establish its introspective mood’ Schubert: lightness and dispatch of tricky flying scale measures in the finale, the fiery pronouncement of the section leading to the 2nd theme and the tended suave treatment of that theme...could hardly have been improved upon. But reviewer N.S. also alerts readers to the ‘metallic quality of tone’. The Prokofiev had vivid juxtapositions of mood without resorting to percussive sounds, excepts where absolutely necessary.
In 1949, Artur Rodzinski hears JB in Havana. He introduces him to Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic. A telephone directory for December 1949 lists a Jorge Bolet with an address at Calle 7 No. 24 in Havana.