Enter Harry and Harold Gladys Gladstone: Harry Davis, a student pianist, entered my life during my New York–New Jersey years, but I don’t remember quite how. He was a very good pianist and had also studied with Hortense Monath, a little later than I had. He was full of ideas, very enterprising, and every time Harry decided to change teachers, for instance, he would say something like “this one’s great,” and I would more or less follow him around. What he seemed to want to do, I found myself wanting to do also. In May, 1935, Harry’s parents gave a bon voyage party at their home in Bayonne, New Jersey prior to his departure for Europe and Como, Italy. There he would study for ten weeks with the renowned Artur Schnabel. That evening Harry and I together played the Brahms B-flat concerto, I manning the orchestral part on the second piano. In the audience was a close friend of Harry’s, also from Bayonne, Harold Rosenberg. To say that Harold later figured prominently in my life would be understating the fact. I married him! David Dalton: If you don’t mind, could we reserve this budding, blossoming, and eventually full-blooming relationship for later pages and stay with Harry for the moment? I believe you have mentioned that Harry Davis had a certain savoir faire, and at this point in your life, you depended on, and learned from, his canniness. GG: Harry became a good friend, and sometimes I felt I almost wouldn’t cross the street if Harry didn’t go there first. Following his lead and encouragement, I did play for other teachers. Among these was Carl Friedberg, Harry’s teacher, who was on the faculty at Juilliard. Friedberg had enjoyed a distinguished career in Germany and then America. He studied with Clara Schumann early on, and among his students were Elly Ney and Percy
The Musical Odyssey
Grainger. I remember Friedberg so well because he was the only teacher of piano for whom I ever auditioned who simply didn’t like my playing. Why, I don’t know, but I believe he told Harry as much. I not only tended to follow Harry around New York, but I wanted to follow him and other students to Lake Como to study with Schnabel. An interesting footnote to the students’ experience at Lake Como had to do with another friend of Harry’s, Helen Fogel. As one of the students in the group bound for Italy, Harry had heard her play. He was impressed, and invited her to perform at his home where I heard her play—and very well. While studying at Lake Como, Helen met Artur Schnabel’s son, Karl Ulrich, and the next thing I knew they were engaged and subsequently married. He and Helen concertized as a duo piano team, and Karl Ulrich Schnabel, in the ensuing years, became a highly respected teacher of piano in his own right. Interestingly, many years later I engaged him myself to give master classes at the Snowbird Institute in Utah, and he was a guest in our home. As to the Como trip, sadly, I didn’t have the money to go. But Harry let me stay at his parents’ home in New Jersey and teach all his students. I feel like I have been teaching piano since before a.d. These weren’t the very first pupils I had, but there was a raft of them. Perhaps this marked my first concentrated period as a teacher, and after Harry returned, I still continued to teach because I began to attract a lot of students in and around Jersey City. Harry had enjoyed the advantage of taking courses in piano pedagogy at Juilliard, while I had not. I wondered at first, when taking on his students, how I was going to teach them. He said, “Well, I’ll tell you. Sit down.” So we sat down for about ten minutes and he told me the approach to use: first week, hands separately; second week, hands together; third week, musicality; and fourth week, memorization. That was about the sum of my training in piano pedagogy. Whereas now there are any number of workshops around the country for teaching piano, in my day they were fairly unknown, at least to me. I think I was and am more of an intuitive teacher. Somehow it seemed to work. When I began working with more advanced students, that approach was too simplistic, you know, but I think I knew instinctively what needed to be done. (Wait! Did I say “you know?” I never dreamed I would fall into a habit of saying that meaningless phrase.) DD: One of the great, ubiquitous, and vacuous linguistic “fillers” these days in American English, like, well, ya know.
Enter Harry and Harold
GG: Harry Davis would change teachers like he changed his shirt, it seemed. He was constantly on a quest to learn new techniques, so for three months we would jointly go to somebody who by reputation specialized in this, then the next three months we would go to someone who specialized in that, and so on. We had an excellent relationship with a couple of other students; we played for each other frequently and were perfectly honest in our evaluation of one another’s playing. I tried to encourage this approach much later among some of my students in Salt Lake City, but it never really worked. We had the advantage in earlier days of more discretionary time, I suppose. Now, university students are so engaged, so structured. In those young days, we seemed to do little else than practice, go to concerts, and, I might add, criticize everybody’s performances. As you might suspect, to youthful eyes and ears, everybody was terrible. DD: What wonderful self-indulgence, and what a broad musical education could be gained in the pulsating atmosphere of New York City. GG: I would go to a concert Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, and Sunday, too. Somehow Harry always got free tickets. They would pass them out to Juilliard students, for instance, then he would pass tickets on to me. I could not have afforded such luxury. At the time, I don’t remember having to pay for a concert, and I must have gone to . . . would thousands be an exaggeration? I wanted to hear all the famous pianists, of course, even though in our exalted opinion they might have played terribly—as youth would have it. Really, New York was a gathering spot for ambitious students like us, a mainstream of marvelous talent. One was better than the other, and everyone was trying to be better than the next one. A kind of boiling pot. Nothing has changed in this respect in large music centers today, I am persuaded. New York in the late 1930s was a kind of boiling pot, and it was an exciting time and place of which to be a part. A friend of mine, Alma Mailman, another Utican, came to New York to live about the time I left the Garfunkel family. I was old enough, and took an apartment with Alma in Greenwich Village. She was the first violist I had ever known, and it seems to me that ever after I had so many connections with violists, such as yourself, and in Salt Lake City, Sally Peck, who was Abravanel’s principal violist for years, that the viola became one of the musical themes of my life. DD: What can one say? Obviously, you have led a charmed life.
The Musical Odyssey
GG: Probably, but however charmed, I never learned to read the viola clef, I must confess. Alma played well, but didn’t ever become a professional violist, though she was practically a professional photographer. And she was stunning looking, just beautiful, and led an interesting life. Our friendship went back to our early teenage years in Utica and at Hamilton College, in a neighboring town, Clinton, a few miles away. Dr. Saunders, on the chemistry faculty, I believe, at Hamilton College, played pretty bad violin. Or, should I be more discrete and say for a chemist he played pretty well? He was an enormous and knowledgeable chamber music enthusiast and seemed to own the entire repertoire. Here we were, Alma and I, a young talented violist and talented pianist, and Dr. Saunders would make the trip, back and forth, to pick us up for his evenings of reading chamber music in his home. He could get through almost everything after a fashion, and an early exposure to a marvelous Beethoven trio one evening remains in my memory. I believe it was the Archduke; I remember Mrs. Saunders standing next to me and saying the music “was like lifting up the earth.” It was my introduction to chamber music, actually almost a graduate course. Alexander Woollcott and other illustrious people would stop by to listen. Among the visitors to the Saunders’s home was James Agee, a young writer, who was going with one of the daughters. But after Alma appeared on the scene, Agee seemed to fall in love with her. He was a very attractive young fellow, and it was easy to fall in love with him, and equally easy for him to fall in and out of love. Alma continued her friendship with James Agee, and when we moved into our Greenwich Village apartment, he was living around the corner, whether by chance or cunning, I don’t know. He was writing for Time magazine—book reviews, film critiques—and earning $75 a week, which was good money then. He saw Alma frequently in our apartment, where I had been able to purchase a Sohmer grand piano. I don’t know how much Jim had studied piano, and when he played Schubert, for example, he came down on my Sohmer like a ton of bricks. But it didn’t matter how it sounded, he became so enthralled with the music. Alma and he married, and they had a baby. When the boy was three days old, Jim told Alma he was in love with someone else, they divorced, and he married another. Alma went off to Mexico—why, I’m not sure—with the baby for a period before eventually returning to New York. Agee became a respected novelist and a Pulitzer Prize winner for A Death in the Family. From 1948 until his death in 1955, he devoted most of his time to writing for the screen, one of his best-known scripts being The
Enter Harry and Harold
African Queen. Musicians may remember him from Samuel Barber’s setting for soprano and orchestra of Agee’s text, Knoxville: Summer of 1915— the place and year of Agee’s birth, by the way. Both my friends Jim and Alma shared tragic deaths, he in a taxicab accident in New York and she in a plane crash on the way to Utica. Another person whom I came to know, and whose name later became highly recognizable, was Avery Fisher. He apparently put an ad in the New York Times inviting anybody who would like to play chamber music on Friday nights to please call his number. I was flabbergasted because it seemed everyone in the world was coming to Avery Fisher’s on Friday nights. Alma told me about the ad, we went, and we met dozens of musicians, mostly string players. Avery seemed to own any chamber work your heart desired. The reason he had put that ad in the paper was because he was a violinist—a pretty bad second violinist, if you ask me—and he loved to play. In the beginning, he played in all the groups that gathered at his place, but then he sort of got pushed out, or he backed out voluntarily. Maybe the standard became too high. Avery was consistent in that he always served raspberry soda, which was terrible, and Danish pastry from who knows where, which was also terrible. Memorable evenings. His was a two-room apartment on Park Avenue, one of which was filled with radios and electronic equipment. It wasn’t until years later, when living in Salt Lake, that I became aware of the Fisher radio, a model of which we owned. The Fisher business expanded and eventually embraced a variety of electronics, including stereo and recording equipment. Of course, now all music lovers know that because of a large endowment from Avery Fisher, his name graces the performing venue of the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. DD: I assume you continued teaching as a means of self support from your Greenwich Village apartment, what with a new grand piano? GG: Yes and no. When I took on Harry Davis’s students while he was in Italy that summer, I started building my class in and around Jersey City. I kept them when I moved to New York, but I never taught them in my apartment. Rather, I always went to their homes. DD: Apparently, that was in the days when piano teachers and doctors made house calls. GG: I spent a good deal of time on the subways, sometimes traveling for an hour and a half just to get to a student’s home. Didn’t think much about
The Musical Odyssey
it, just did it, because that was how it was done, or at least by me. From New York to Jersey, for instance, was no small trek. I would take the subway down to Canal Street, then the tubes to get to New Jersey and Journal Square, and finally buses to wherever my students lived. From one student to another, I might have another twenty-minute bus ride. If I arrived at a home to teach about lunch or dinner time, the family would invite me to eat with them. My students were wonderful people, as were their parents. I don’t mean that they were terribly gifted pianists, but bright, charming, marvelous people, and the parents would recommend other students to me. Something that came out of the mouth of one of my eight-year-old pupils has always remained with me, and indicates the lively thinking of some of my pupils then. Overhearing a friend of this young person ask her if she would suggest me as a teacher, her answer was, “Yes, she’s strict, but she’s nice.” I thought that was the way a teacher was supposed to be, and I’ve tried to be. I learned to teach by teaching, and I loved it. DD: What eventually became of Harry Davis, who had proved to be such a stimulus in your musical life, as well as a catalyst in your personal life? GG: He became a pianist and teacher of some note, but, honestly, I lost track of this influential young friend when I left New York for good. It was through Harry, as I indicated earlier, that I met my husband, Harold. It was at the bon voyage concert at the Davis home, that soiree that launched Harry and the other students, minus myself, sadly, toward Lake Como the summer of 1935. DD: And what attracted you to Harold Rosenberg?
Harold Rosenberg on beach.
GG: Well, frankly, it was because he was so handsome. I fell in love with him the first minute I saw him. I can see him as clearly as though it were yesterday: he sat next to another student, both wearing tan suits and with legs crossed exactly the same. I thought I saw them almost as twins, though they really didn’t look alike. This memory goes back over sixty years. I have had young women come to my home in the past few
Enter Harry and Harold
Harold and Gladys at time of their engagement.
years, whom I’ve gotten to know. They tell of their boyfriends, and are interested in my family, my deceased husband, and our early life together. On occasion I have shown photos of Harold as a young man, and they have exclaimed, “Wow, what a stud!” I suppose in today’s vernacular, this is the ultimate praise that can be heaped by a young lady on a handsome male. Those musicales at the Davis home took place rather frequently, and that’s where Harold and I mainly saw each other. We didn’t go out together until some time later. Harold knew quite a bit about music and seemed always to know the pieces that were being performed. He was critical of Harry’s playing and mine as well, not in a negative way, but he knew enough to be able to evaluate. Harold had taken piano lessons and played a little jazz, but he was bent on going to medical school, having had that ambition, he told me, since he was about six years old. His father had been wealthy but lost all his money in the crash of 1929. While his family still had remnants of being well off—a good house—still Harold didn’t have enough money to go directly to medical school and had to take a year off after he graduated from college. His father died about this time, which didn’t help matters. Harold took a history degree from New York University and finally managed to go to the Long Island Medical College.
The Musical Odyssey
We were married May 7, 1939, at the Jewish Community Center in Jersey City, the day after Harold graduated from medical school. We took an apartment in New York, and he became an intern in Paterson, New Jersey at $15 a month. I was teaching a lot and earning what we thought was a sufficient amount of money. We didn’t pine over money during our early years of marriage. If we got a hot dog for fifteen cents and an orangeade for ten at Nathan’s—a kind of McDonald’s of the day in New York City—we thought it was enough. Often that was our dinner. Harold started his residency at Bellevue Hospital, New York City, in 1941. But the winds of war were blowing, and as was the case in so many young lives, ours, too, would be affected.