Saturday, July 10, 2010

News of Raoul Pugno - 1852-1914 - Pre-War Pianist, Organist, Teacher, Composer

 The Lost World of Performance Art

I.  The Lost Performance - Pre-War, Victorian, Edwardian

Now, this was a performance,  Here is a brittle, yellowed snippet (all that remains) of a review of concert artist Raoul Pugno at an orchestral setting keyboard, conductor (was this a full orchestra?) Walter Damrosch.  This is from some newspaper, found in a box of household stuff, various sources, Pittsburgh.  It also must have been before 1914, because Pugno died in 1914. 

At first fast read, the instrument appears to be an organ; but the imagery of surround-sound is to set you up. Read closely and you will find that he played a regular piano -- the performer apparently achieved the same effect as a straight-organ or some other organ amalgam of seventeen octaves that was huge, see the second paragraph. He made a "common or garden piano" sound like it had seventeen octaves.

Sit back and enjoy Raoul Pugno in your imagination, from your seat in Center Orchestra: Here he is. Concert pianist and organist himself.

Raoul Pugno:  Thumbnail from Widimedia commons at ://

And the review bit:

"It is easy to think of a man of physique so imposing seated at centre of a great mystic circle of keys, touching at will the chords of a shifting humanity, dashing off on one bank of keys with electric cable to Boston a rare old Bach fugue, while his extra hand sent Luther's Hymn thrilling other wires to Philadelphia.  He should be choregus * to the Olympian Zeus.  He should, like a twentieth century Franklin, draw to earth the ether-borne music of the spheres.  Just fancy Hercules of old doing five finger exercises, or the Colossus of Rhodes playing scales.

"Pugno contented himself last night with one common or garden piano; it was no baby-grand, but the biggest single instrument known.  The way he read the riot act to that piece of wood and wire was a caution.  He was an all-'round pianist.  Even with no keys to right of him, none to left of him, but just the ordinary seventeen octaves in front of him, he volleyed and thundered. Conductor Walter Damrosch faced him with all the helpless expression that the late Rev. Sidney Smith said he experienced when a fat woman asked him  ***[column cuts off, at a fold, the rest missing, except on that last sliver of a line, this barely legible bit:]  An orchestra of seventy ... *** [thereafter, who knows]."
* Choregus.  The Choregus was the "lucky" person of means who was appointed for the season in Ancient Greece, the "Dionysia" of Athens; one such Choregus for each of the three tragic poets.  The Choregus was charged to manage, train, equip, house and feed the chorus.  For the big procession, the Choregoi wore gold and crowns, and had lighter pocketbooks than before.  See ://

Raoul Pugno should be a household name, judging from his biography, see ://  His are among the earliest piano recordings available, for a pianist trained in the mid-19th Century.  He was a genius, performing at age 6. Relax, and settle into the calm of a Chopin's Nocturne at ://  Wear a big hat.  See Hatpins Collection, with suitable Hat Pin.

II.  Context

How to throw away a nugget of newsprint that must predate 1914, because that is when the subject died?  And when long gone is the identity of the particular press, the page, the rest. Answer:  You can't.  So you share. If this were digital or email, it wouldn't even exist. Sic transit gloria etc.

Why was this saved:  It probably wasn't.  The intention more likely was to save the reverse side, some housekeeping hints,

including using molasses to remove mildew from linens, much as sailors did for the sails; blot grease on wool with cotton balls (no synthetics), and clean your cut glass with a strong ammonia solution.  There. Now you know.

No comments: