• U.S.

Music: Recital Mill

4 minute read

At Manhattan’s Town Hall dour Wanda Landowska took her bow in a harpsichord recital which critics pronounced the finest tinkling of its kind. At Carnegie Hall a recital by dignified Pianist Egon Petri followed the recital of an indomitable U.S. lady violinist, Byrd Elliot, who perennially performs before an audience that would scarcely strain the capacity of an average front parlor. Baritone Yves Tinayre, accompanied by a troop of dramatic dancers, moaned the music of medieval French masters in a recital which one critic described as “constricted cooing.”

These were only a starter. After them will come some 500 other artists—divas and dowagers, prodigies and spaghetti tenors, world-famed violinists and pianists, European celebrities and art-conscious radio crooners—all intent on their big moment before the nation’s most exacting (and jaded) high-brow musical audience. The Manhattan recital season was off again last week to its characteristically chaotic start. At the box office, Manhattan’s ticket salesmen were jubilant. As in 1917, they reported a recital boom.

As a recitalist gravely bows and sails into Beethoven and Brahms, the hall may be thronged with applauding listeners. But the intake at the box office usually runs somewhere from $6.50 to a few hundred dollars. Concert names that are big enough to draw real money in Manhattan (Rachmaninoff, Menuhin, Kreisler, Hofmann) can be counted on ten fingers. Even famed Violinist Joseph Szigeti netted a mere $200 on a last year’s Manhattan recital.

Cost of a Manhattan recital, complete with trimmings, is between $700 and $1,200, less the generally negligible box-office take. For this figure a recitalist gets a piano, publicity, tickets, an accompanist (if he needs one), and the services (at a 20% rake-off) of an established musical manager, and a first-class hall. (Carnegie, on the Philharmonic’s off nights, rents for $400; Town Hall, a few blocks downtown, for $300; smaller auditoriums at $75 a night & up.) The manager, if he is a good one. has already booked halls for the most desirable dates of the season. He provides a suitable afternoon or evening for his client, tends to the publicity, sells or gives away all the tickets the client cannot give away himself.

Yet cheerfully, year in & out, recitalists plunk down their hard-earned cash, practice themselves into a lather, suffer stage fright and accept their inevitable financial trimmings with a smile. Some are music teachers or locally famous virtuosos, in small U.S. cities, who hope to take home a batch of favorable press clippings. Some are second-rank European artists who hope to enter the U.S. concert world by Manhattan’s tricky revolving door. Some, like Clarinetist Benny Goodman, Cinemactress Jeanette MacDonald, Radio Singer Lanny Ross, are successful popular artists who cannot resist a yen to compete in the long-hair trade. Some are well-known concert artists who expect to recoup in nationwide tours the money they lose in Manhattan. Some just want the thrill of performing in the nation’s biggest musical center.

Perhaps the only small-time artist who ever breaks even on a Manhattan recital is Philadelphia’s Mrs. Florence Foster Jenkins, a clubwoman coloratura now in her 70s. Once a year Singer Jenkins appears on the flower-banked stage of one of Manhattan’s smaller auditoriums, is always sure of a wildly enthusiastic audience, which comes to be amused. Accompanied by a concert pianist named Cosme Mc-Moon, she does her singing in a variety of flame-colored gowns, stomachers, mantillas, corsages, tiaras, while her yellow curls bob and nod with her vocal vim.

Critics have long wondered whether Coloratura Jenkins’ art can be described as singing at all. But she will intrepidly attack any aria, scale its altitudes in great swoops and hoots, assay its descending trills with the vigor of a maudlin cuckoo. Her recitals are jampacked with cheering devotees. Her specialty: a flower song in which she massively hurls flowers, basket and all, at the heads of her following.

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