Wednesday, July 21, 2010

George Selcamm, Joseph Machlis and 57th Street

In 1971 a work of musical fiction called "57th street" was written by George Selcamm. A liberated time, 1971 was still not quite ready for the kind of candid sexuality, both hetero and homosexual, that appears from time-to-time in the text. Probably for this reason the name George Selcamm was a pseudonym.

The real writer could be derived only by sounding the name "Selcamm" in phonetic retrograde: Machlis--Joseph Machlis (1906-1998).

Machlis has inspired several generations of music lovers with his book "The Enjoyment of Music," which has been in print continuously since 1955. The idea of distancing from this new venture in fiction from "The Enjoyment of Music" could easily have been Norton's idea as they were the also the publisher of the novel "57th Street."

The book is substantial at 344 pages. It develops connections among a group of musicians and friends centered on a pianist named Judith Conrad. As the book opens she is playing the Mozart D minor concerto in Carnegie Hall.

"The introduction was as spacious as the opening of a symphony," wrote Machlis, "its sorrow tempered by a noble serenity. Presently oboe and flute engaged in a gentle dialogue that quieted her apprehension. Horvath turned to her and nodded. She raised her hands to the keys."

(This performance is by pianist Mariaclara Monetti)

When a musician writes fiction the details are of interest. Time passes in nonlinear modality. "Presently" is a great word because it suggests immersion in the performance. The "gentle dialog" begins at [1:00], but the "nod" would have happened around [2:22] just prior to the piano entry.

"The Allegro ended. Judith took a breath and listened to the silence in the hall, punctuated here and there by a cough. She began the Romanza alone, with a tone that was limpid, caressing. The secret of this movement was neither to hurry nor to drag it; she felt she had hit upon just the right tempo. The muted violins answered the opening phrase, and she noticed that Horvath had understood it exactly as she had. Her fears had left her; she was at one with the music--nothing else mattered."

(Sviatoslav Richter , Piano)

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