September 11, 1915
Page 8

Carlos Salzedo Describes the New France That Has Arisen Under the Lash of Stress and Struggle—The Harpist, Newly Arrived in America After a Year in Trench and Hospital, Reflects the Generous Attitude of the Man at the Front Towards His Enemy—Effect of a Tremendous Life Experience Upon the Soldier-Artist

NOT without a certain element of nameless awe do we meet again those of our acquaintance who have passed through the spiritual crisis of a major life experience. They acquire of a sudden the dignity born of a higher, clearer vision and a chastened consciousness. They seem invested with qualities and faculties different, in a sense, from our own and loftier after their look into the abyss. And the mystic reaction they impel is greater in proportion to the outer, visible changes wrought in them by woe.
One is acutely sensible of these facts on encountering Carlos Salzedo these days. The gifted French harpist, for seasons a familiar figure in the New York Symphony Orchestra and as one of the triumvirate constituting the Trio de Lutèce, has lived intensely during the last year, has had revealed to him many of those things which others squander a lifetime without ever remotely perceiving. A very young man still he has nevertheless attained a great maturity of understanding and spiritual sensibility. And no wonder! For six months or more he endured the Dante-esque horror of the trenches, observed the agony and regeneration of a people and received the highest truths at their very source-privileges at once bitter and sublime.
Those who have known Salzedo will meet him to-day with a shock; He is so changed—not only as to the expansion of soul, but in point of appearance. Thin to the point of emaciation, nervous, almost wizened, the little man impresses one curiously as a grotesque simulacrum of his former self. The phase is perhaps transient. Rest, a return to normal conditions of existence, and music may restore him ·in a measure to the semblance of what he used to be. But in other ways he will be found to have passed from his former self to something different, and doubtless to have evolved into a greater artist.
The Friendly Enemy
Soldiers in the trenches are understood to harbor little of that vindictiveness and passionate detestation for the enemy that prevails among the non-combatant population. Americans saw the fact exemplified in the attitude of Fritz Kreisler last season. Salzedo will be found to furnish another case in point. He despises the spirit which instigated the war and which occasioned its enormities. Beyond that he entertains no rancor. The contemplation of hellish doings has softened, not brutalized his nature, even as it has scorched and consumed the dross from other and admittedly lesser spirits.
“How can I hate the Germans, among whom I number many of my dearest friends?” exclaimed the young harpist in commenting on the matter a few days after his arrival in New York last week. “No one who has not spent time in the trenches can appreciate how little ill feeling really exists between the fighters. Why should it? As individuals we had nothing against each other. On the other hand consider for the moment what sentiments would have been mine had I found myself face to face with such a man as Fritz Kreisler. Could I have harmed him out of considerations of national policy? So far am I from feeling any undue animosity toward individuals of any one nationality that I will freely express my conviction that all the governments concerned in this war were in the wrong, the German government merely being somewhat more so than the others. Why, we used actually to fraternize for considerable periods with certain of the German companies; men visited the trenches of their antagonists. We were on particularly friendly terms with the Bavarians and genuinely regretted when they were shifted to another neighborhood. The Würtembergers were less agreeable. So we devised a signal code with the former by way of finding out whether they were to remain or be transferred elsewhere and so whether our amicable relations with the opposite trenches might be continued for a while.
A Honeymoon Halted by War
“Three months before the war began I was married. My wife and I intended to spend a part of the summer at the Lac d’Annecy and there I actually was, playing tennis, when the crash came so suddenly. There had previously been vague rumors of war, but we laughed at them. And then suddenly in the middle of a quiet summer afternoon the tocsin was sounded, intense excitement prevailed and mobilization was in progress.
“I was sent to the front. I was at first in the culinary department doing what I could in the way of cooking. Eventually I was graduated to the sterner work of the firing line. Nominally, all individuals, whatever their station in life, are there treated alike. But as an actual though unofficial fact special consideration is shown those of artistic callings. Effort is directed at apportioning work with a view to suiting it to respective individualities. Artists are spared the more arduous kinds of labor whenever possible. At one time they requested me to give a concert for some of the men. I played, therefore, in a church in Toul. Naturally, a few days in the rear alternated with a couple of days in the trenches. It is necessary, if one is to keep up, for it is not easy to undergo the incessant strain and to gaze upon horrors—to see the ground about one strewn with dismembered corpses, with fragments of heads, arms, legs. One does become inured to the excitement and the terrific tension, it is true, unless, as in a number of cases, the nerves give way completely. But the reaction is correspondingly awful. I succumbed to it in the long run and was prostrated, rheumatism adding to my misfortunes. And so after five months I reached the hospital—though unwounded. Dalmores, by chance, was interned in the same ward. He, poor fellow, suffered excrutiatingly from abscesses in the nose and throat. But he has not lost his voice. Renaud, as you have heard, is now a captain. Clément drives an automobile.
The New France
“What has become to me the most marvelous feature of this war is the resurrection of the French nation. Under the lash of stress and struggle, it has suddenly put forth its grandest qualities of soul that for many years have been obscured. France has been censured for its incorrigible levity. But if you see it now you will observe characteristics of temperament that have hitherto been unsuspected—on all hands, a profound seriousness, a truly noble gravity and an adaptability to tragic circumstances never suspected. The nation became great overnight, as it were. It became a thing to wonder at from the moment of mobilization, which was executed with unexampled smoothness, in spite of the lack of preparation. For the suddenness of the catastrophe might well have overwhelmed us—we, who but a week or two earlier had been engrossed in nothing more important than the Caillaux case.
“And when it is all over the French people will not lose this depth and gravity. The nation has seen its soul illumined in a great light and the sight will not be vain nor the effect of it transitory. We, who for more than twenty years have possessed the most original musical art in Europe, will further broaden its scope and humanize its essence. That does not mean that our present composers are going to change their methods overnight, though there has been foolish talk to that effect. I remember asking my comrade in the trenches, Florent Schmitt, if he had changed his style since the war began. He laughed at me.
Composed in the Trenches
“I myself did some composing in the trenches, so as to relieve the deadly monotony of frequent inaction. The result is a men’s chorus, a setting of a poem by Charles d’ Orleans. Mr. Damrosch may give it this winter. I also composed during my convalescence in the hospital.
“The interest of France to-day is largely centered in the action of this country, though none desires to see it go to war. For the benefits America has conferred on the French since the beginning of the whole lamentable affair gratitude is unbounded.
“As for myself I shall be from now on immersed in my music. To the joy of that I look forward as a certain and final cure for the physical ills I have undergone. And none will welcome more fervently than I my colleagues of the musical world whatever their nationality or political convictions! From now on I shall endeavor to the utmost to assist in spreading the cult of French music in the United States, to instruct those who aspire to distinguish themselves in this particular field as to the style and traditions that are needed to vitalize the performance of it and to instill into American executants of French composition the true French spirit. Thus I shall be paying a debt at once to my own country and to America.” —H. F. P.


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