Music in America has now a sufficiently long perspective to deserve the appellation of history, and it is with especially warm feeling that I salute the American Federation of Music Clubs for having played a major role in the development of our national musical history. Both the student and professional have benefited through their efforts, encouraging students by way of contest ratings, awards and introductions to the public. The American Federation taps our national potential at its source. These activities have a double effect - enlarging the scope of various level of performers, and audiences as well, who become more music-minded because of the local and national activities of the Federation. I cannot help but feel that among the heroines but even among the unnoticed categories of heroines belong the women who have given their time and energy to the development of each club and their activities.
I remember so well, long ago, the whole hearted concern and sympathetic kindness of the women who helped in all the arrangements of the semi-finals and final audition, of the biennial contest in 1935 held in Philadelphia, when I received the first prize of $1,000 from the Federation. At that time the Federation contest was combined with the Schelbest Memorial in a joint contest. The latter’s award offered an engagement for 3 concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra, 2 in Philadelphia and 1 at Carnegie Hall, New York City. I won both awards and my career had begun overnite. It may surprise those who know me solely as a Bach performer to learn that the work which I performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra was the 2nd Piano Concerto in Bb by Brahms! Since then my tours have brought me to many different countries of the world, and my home (when I am there) is now in London. I have retained my American citizenship and have no intention of giving it up; this I should like to make absolutely clear, because for several years I have found it necessary to rectify the notion due to vague rumor that I am now a British citizen. I return to the U.S. and Canada in the coming season for the 3rd tine in the last 4 years, and each time I return to my own country I see it as both a native American and an international citizen. I know its virtues, which I state and uphold vigorously in all parts of the world, and I see its faults as a non-American. I understand the reasons for American shortcomings, but since the world requires practical results, not reasons for lacks and omissions, the United States suffers international misunderstandings.
My own career provides vivid examples of attitudes towards America. My first European tour took me to the Scandinavian countries. In Copenhagen, where I played a series of three all-Bach recitals, almost every newspaper carried the headline on the morning after my first appearance “The Great Surprise”. The reviewers went on to make the incredible statement that since I was an American they had come to the concert expecting “the worst”, for they could not think that an American could play Bach, let alone make a unique contribution. Then, they continued, on hearing me they were “ashamed of themselves”, acclaimed this the greatest Bach playing they had ever heard and urged people not to miss my next recitals. Pandemonium followed. The hall had been half filled for the first concert, but within a few hours on the next day, both remaining rentals had been sold out and my manager’s office was besieged by callers begging for a repeat rental of the first program, which they had missed. During those weeks there were many unforgettable incidents. I remember a well-known Dane saying to me, “That you are a women and play Bach as you do, I take my hat off to you - but that you are an American and produce such art, I take my shoes off!” Several composers came as a representative body to invite me to write articles on Bach. My hotel room was filled with gifts anonymously presented. A University professor turned to me at a luncheon party given for me by the American Minister and asked “How do you Americans learn how to walk out onto the stage and bow? Is there a school in which they learn this?” “Ah, you were born in Chicago - that’s where the gangsters come from”, is a comment which I heard in many countries.
Things have changed since. There is infinitely more respect for the American artist and American art, for Europeans have come to know us better thru international exchange of students and professors, and have become acquainted with art productions in different fields. Since 1953 when my tours abroad extended to years of advance bookings, the skeptical attitude to American art has diminished to nothing. In 1955 my first concerts in Holland brought forth the same sense of discovery by the Dutch of a revelatory concept and style of performance of Bach. I was touched by the emotional expressions of their appreciation. The shouting, handkerchief-waving and standing ovations of the audiences, lining the streets to greet me, running after my car and throwing bouquets in through the open window, and again anonymous gifts and flowers. And these experiences have been repeated in countries of such varying temperaments and histories as England, Ireland, Spain, S. Africa, and Switzerland.
My return to America in 1958, after 3 years of absence in which such scenes took place when ever I played abroad, was particularly moving. Although Americans are the most spontaneous and friendly people in the world, they do not abandon themselves to throwing flowers (except perhaps in parades), or running after my cars. But I did find a profoundly feeling public and to my surprise, standing ovations, not only in New York City, but thruout the country, which seemed to me a new release of expression on the part of American audiences. Such a release also means a greater sense of the [illegible] an art and it has been heart-warming for me to feel this greater depth, greater knowledge and open welcome in my subsequent tours, I look forward to my American tour of this year and future years, with the knowledge that my own country is also capable of cherishing the deeper values with which I am concerned, and of a free-flowing demonstration of their response. This, despite the fact, that the monster, commercialism, is a constant threat to American cultural growth.
The American Federation of Music Clubs can nurture this new awareness by not only aiding performers, but by consciously cherishing the art of music and artists for the sake of the enrichment and expansion of each American individual life which inevitably develops as result of a more profound sense of the indispensability of art to life.