Alas, a few words from the guests, a few piano roll recordings from the 1920s, and some recordings made by my father on early recording devices, are all I have, along with my memories, one of which consists of seeing her perform in public, not hearing her, only seeing. The memory, sadly, is truncated, which implies all sorts of meanings.
I am with my father and sister and several other people in a box overlooking the stage of Chicagos Orchestra Hall. Harry Selzer and his wife, Sarah, are also in the box, Mr. Selzer being the impresario who arranged for celebrity artists to perform in Chicago and the author, allegedly, of the line: Good music isnt so nearly as bad as it sounds.
The lights of the hall dim and the lights of the stage come up creating a golden glow around the gleaming black piano. Below me, not that many feet away, my mother strides on to the stage from a door beneath our box. I can say that I remember the applause, but I cant. I can say that I remember her program that Sunday afternoon, every phrase, every romantic passage, but I cant. I remember her high heel platform shoes and the large shoulder pads in her dress. From where I sat, they seemed immense and silly looking. The memory ends with a vision of her holding on to the piano with her left hand and bowing to the audience.
My mother was at her best when music filled her head, and our house. Music, or the discussion of it, the gossiping and schmoozing, temporarily pushed away her sadness and anger and all that evil intensity. Martin Luther was right: The devil does not stay where music is. These were the times I liked her the most, its when she was genuinely being herself, especially when she practiced. Well, that of course is an idealized vision. She was all that she was. But it is when the music was around that I loved her, even more than when she took me for hot fudge Sundaes while my sister sat in a dentists chair. No audience, no inner demons, no signs of the personal torture that no amount of psychoanalysis ever seemed to diminish. It was just her and her beloved Bach, Chopin, Liszt, Scarlatti, Schubert, Brahms, Scriabin, and Rachmaninoff.
The career that had been officially launched on November 20, 1923 at New Yorks Town Hall came to an end less than twenty years later in 1941. At thirty seven years of age, a wife and the mother of two small children, my mother gave it all up, and retired from the concert platform.