October 28, 1916
Page 2

Celebrated French Violinist Returns from Grasp of Cataclysm with a Message of Sympathy—His Experiences at the Front—”No Reasonable Frenchman Wishes to Belittle the Greatness of Germany,” He Declares. “Who Could Object to Beethoven or Brahms or Liszt or Schumann?”

THERE is that about Jacques Thibaud which predicates the experience of war. It is a subtle, elusive thing, almost impervious to analysis, a trait quite independent of physical circumstance—a sort of mental readjustment, as it were, that impinges sharply on the conscious-ness which has not been summoned to endure in its fullness the stress and bitterness of the age. It is a condition spiritualized and sweetened, never cynical or combative. We have felt it in Kreisler, in Salzedo, in Dalmores.
To the physical eye Thibaud appears healthier and his normal self more than anyone of these on his return from abroad. But, even as with them, something in him is discernibly enhanced, something vital, but intangible, liberated as through a potent chemicalization. The erstwhile polished artist one now feels to be the master of incommensurably deeper secrets.
The violinist had nineteen months of the battle line. Then grievous disabilities brought him to the hospital. He had suffered an automobile accident nearly two years earlier, but that was a detail. He became temporarily as deaf as Beethoven from the detonations of the new French mortars. Even to-day the sight of his right eye is gravely affected. As a military automobile driver, with the serious responsibility of conveying to posts of greatest importance many of the foremost commanding officers, he managed to cripple one of his fingers with rheumatism, due to exposure. These were lesser evils, however, entirely germane to his duties and calculated to be cheerfully borne.
On the Scenes of Military Crises
He was privileged to be with Manoury’s heroes at the Marne; to figure at the Aisne; to assist in stemming the German tide at Ypres; to behold the headlong rush in the Champagne. He was at Arras, at Verdun. And through it all he passed unscathed, save for transient difficulties.
Then he fell victim to an obvious vicissitude of his position. The car he drove overturned and was wrecked and the violinist was very badly hurt. They sent him to Paris, to the leading military hospital. Internal trouble developed and he suffered martyrdom. He was weak, haggard, with normal bodily functions as inoperative as in a very aged and infirm person. When he began to mend, they discharged him too soon, with the result that he soon went back for another period of surveillance and treatment. Gradually his healthy constitution prevailed and he went forth, armed with many solemn medical admonitions, grew stout and, being favored with nearly a year’s furlough (till next April, to be precise) took up his violin once more, played in concert and prepared for his American trip.
He had no easy time securing the essential passport and sanction. But he got both (they had been officially promised him months before) and came across in company with his wife and Alfred Lortat, the pianist, who had also done his share of warring for France. Mrs. Thibaud had borne her tribulations with the stoic fortitude characteristic of contemporary French womanhood. Not only her husband, but her father and brother had gone out to do battle.
No Violin for Sixteen Months
For sixteen months, Thibaud did not see a violin. “I kept asking myself,” he relates, “whether I had lost all my proficiency on the instrument, through inability to practise. Judge of my surprise when, on finally securing one, I found that I could play without trouble, indeed; without any apparent loss of dexterity. But this state of affairs did not continue. After two days my long musical inactivity had its effect. I lost all facility through a sort of reaction and had afterwards to exercise diligently in order to get back into trim. Fortunately, my rheumatic finger did not trouble me long, for I am not by nature subject to rheumatism. And my deafness—the result of a paralyzing nervous shock due to the awful concussion and air pressure from the guns—lasted only a short while. The amazing part of that was that I failed for a long time to realize that I could not hear. Many of my comrades were similarly affected.
Musical Life of Paris
“There is to-day plenty of musical activity in Paris. Indeed, except for the darkness of the city at night time, life is altogether as it used to be, despite the prevalence of mourning. “It is not true that musicians, as a whole, are in terrible straits and distress. The Colonne and Lamoureux orchestras give concerts on alternate weeks. One Sunday Chevillard conducts, the next Pierne.
“And, note well, there is no foolish discrimination against composers because of their nationality. No reasonable Frenchman wishes to be so absurd as to belittle the greatness of Germany. Who could object to Beethoven, or Brahms, or Liszt, or Schumann? How could one get along without them, anyhow? Do you imagine that I could take any less joy to-day than formerly in performing the Brahms Concerto? Or in listening to Wagner? Do you think I am any the less willing than before the war to admit what I consider to be the genius of Strauss? We in France, who are fighting to make a recurrence of existing conditions impossible for all time, realize and appreciate the suffering of our enemies no less than our own; we feel only too keenly that those opposing us are beings of human sentiments fundamentally like our own, with ties and connections which are sundered with no less anguish and uncomplaining heroism.
In Defense of Monteux
“The recent disturbance here over my friend, Mr. Monteux, seems to have grown out of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, and has greatly distressed him. As a matter of truth, he never refused to conduct German music because it was German—he is no such narrow-minded bigot. Of his willingness to conduct Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, there was never any question. It was thoroughly unfair to him to intimate that he consented to direct these masters only because they were too remote to have any connection with the war. But, he does not regard Strauss as equal in genius to the greatest German composers, or as comparable with Wagner.
“And, like many other French musicians, he feels aggrieved against Strauss, not through the idea that he signed the famous manifesto—which he did not—but because, when the composer of ‘Salome’ was conducting something of his in Paris a year or so before the war, he told the orchestra at a rehearsal that ‘French musicians would have to be driven with bayonets.’ The musicians quite naturally took offense at such a slur, and complained to the management. They had played under such men as Nikisch, Mottl, Weingartner, Richter, Hermann Levi, had always won the esteem of these illustrious conductors and had entertained for them the highest respect. But they resented the insult of Strauss, as was natural enough. It alienated the sympathies of many Frenchmen, among them Mr. Monteux. Nevertheless, Strauss did receive the cross of the Legion of Honor quite as Kreisler and many other Teutonic musicians had.
“Now, when Mr. Monteux reached America, the very first thing given him to conduct was a work of this same Strauss. He demurred, but with none of the heat and violence they ascribed to him. He would unquestionably and cheerfully have conducted ‘Till Eulenspiegel’ later, without the slightest remonstrance, had he been able to do some other things first. For he was, above all, anxious to please a nation which, though neutral, is so friendly to his own country. The present turn of affairs has deeply grieved him.”
Mr. Thibaud’s pleasure at being back in America is not the joy in being far from the scene of the conflict. It is founded in a very sincere love for the country and its people, as well as appreciation of its artistic advancement over former years. His tour is no pleasure trip, however. Materially, the war has hit the violinist hard, for he had divided practically his entire fortune between investments in northern France, Austria and Turkey, and it is seriously incumbent upon him to recoup some of his losses by dint of hard work before placing himself once more at the service of his country.
And, on their part, Americans will hear a new and greater Thibaud. “Who could live through and see what I did,” he says, “and yet remain the same? It is an awful, a monstrous thing actually to behold fellow men, their limbs shot away, their eyes out, covered with blood, helpless in the grasp of the cataclysm. And oh! the infinite sadness of it all!” —H. F. P.


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